View: Why ‘Make in India’ in defence cannot succeed without private sector | Latest News India

View: Why ‘Make in India’ in defence cannot succeed without private sector | Latest News India

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New Delhi: In her joint address to Parliament today, President Draupadi Murmu said that ‘Make in India’ and ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ had become strengths of new India and lauded that defence production had crossed the one-lakh crore mark.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh with the leaders of the armed forces.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh with the leaders of the armed forces.

Bharat’s defence exports, according to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman are expected to touch USD 2.8 billion or 24000 crore in 2024. The Indian defence exports have grown 23 times in the past nine years, surpassing USD 1.9 billion or 16000 crore since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. The defence export figure in 2013-2014 was mere 686 crore even as India is now preparing to supply BrahMos land attack supersonic missiles to Philippines, which is facing the brunt of Chinese military coercion in the South China Sea.

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While all these point to a positive growth trajectory to Indian defence manufacturing and exports but the Narendra Modi government will also have to shoulder the responsibility of amending the tedious and long winded Defence Procurement Rules in order to allow the government to buy from Indian private sector manufacturing latest defence platforms. The Indian defence private sector is at the mercy of a moribund Defence Ministry bureaucrats, Defence PSUs and DRDO, who all make tall talks but deliver very little on ground. To add to this mess are the Indian armed forces, whose qualitative requirements (QRs) from the vendors are twisted in such a way that Indian manufacturers are often kept at bay and foreign vendors make a killing. For example, the QRs for fighter aircraft or submarines are made in such a way that one should not be surprised if the Navy did not want submarines to fly and the Air Force wanted the fighters to transform into sub-surface combatants.

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It is quite evident that PM Modi has invested a lot into the ‘Make in India’ initiative but the defence start-ups will fade away if the government does not provide them adequate support to manufacture the desired platform but also ask the armed forces to buy them. Simply put, why should any third country buy from Indian manufacturers if its own armed forces do not patronize them. The government needs to hammer into the Indian military-defence bureaucracy that Indian private defence manufacturing must be supported as Defence PSUs and DRDO alone cannot deliver. Take for example, the DRDO’s drone project which has totally failed to deliver even though countries like Iran and Turkey are exporting to third countries including Russia and Pakistan.

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Rather than focusing on their core competence, the DRDO has developed a habit of growing berries in Leh to drugs for immunity to COVID to building ICBMs, and fiercely protects its fiefdom. Even if the DRDO does not have the technology, it is sure to write a letter to the government to prevent the armed forces getting a better developed and proven product. A classic example is how the DRDO stymied the US Javelin and Israeli Spike shoulder fired anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) projects. It is another matter that India had to buy Spike ATGMs from Israel as part of emergency purchases (at much higher prices) after China transgressed into Ladakh in May 2020 as the DRDO product was still undergoing trials. Fact is that the DRDO letter is a project killer as the same will be leaked to the media to ensure that the government shelves the acquisition or else gets accused of taking bribes from a foreign or even a joint venture vendor.

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If the ‘Make in India’ project of the Modi government has to succeed, then tough decisions must be taken in coming months to ensure accountability on part of the DRDO and the Defence PSUs. The Indian private players must also be subjected to the same accountability so that indigenous defence manufacturing ensures that India is not dependent on any third country to defend itself. One must remember, the Indian Navy’s latest submarines were planned in 1999 and the Air Forces’ shelved MMRCA project was planned in 2001. The first of the 36 Rafales landed in India in July 2020 at the peak of India-China tensions with the bloody Galwan skirmish happening only a month before. ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ is a measure of Indian confidence in its own capabilities and strength. PM Modi will have to go for disruption if Bharat is to come out as the factory of the world.

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